Murphy, it turns out, was very much not the debonair gentleman thief as played by Don Stoud in Live a Little, Steal a Lot.
Jack Murphy, the handsome surfer-playboy jewel thief — that’s what Nora Ephron would have you think, anyway — died last week at age 83, from heart failure.
Murphy was born in LA but belongs to Florida. That’s where he made his mark as a surfer, winning the ’62 Daytona Championships and briefly running Murf’s Surf Shop in Indialantic.
And that’s where he began thieving professionally, as a B&E creeper in Miami Beach, stealing high-end art from rich people’s beach homes and selling the pieces back to their insurance companies.
In 1964, Murphy and two accomplices broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York and stole the Star of India sapphire, plus a big handful of other precious gems, and “Jewel Heist of the Century” stories ran coast to coast.
Three days later they were caught, and Murphy served 21 months in Rikers.
My resentment against Jack Murphy began with the fact that his perfect “Murf the Surf” nickname sounded too much like “Murphy,” and I don’t want anybody or anything stepping that close to Rick Griffin’s sweet-faced cartoon grom, who represents all of our surfing innocence.
(In 2013 I described Murphy as the Hello Kitty of surf culture, meaning he was sweet, popular and beloved, and I stand by that call.)
What really put me off Jack Murphy, though, was looking deeper into his criminal history while writing Encyclopedia of Surfing in 2000. Murphy, it turns out, was very much not the debonair gentleman thief as played by Don Stoud in Live a Little, Steal a Lot.
He was a stone-cold killer who in 1967 took a pair of female crime accomplices out for a boat ride, beat them to death, knifed opened their torsos, tied them to concrete blocks, and threw them overboard.
The East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame elected Murphy on their first ballot, in 1996, noting his competition wins and his surf shop.
The open-and-shut double-murder conviction somehow went unmentioned.
It shouldn’t matter, but Jack Murphy also looks like Montgomery Burns’ favorite son.
(Like Matt Warshaw’s flavour? This obit comes from his weekly mail-out, sent to all good surfers who cut three bucks a month to subscribe to his bottomless archive of surf history. Join here. And if you want a little more, listen to Matt, along with Tyler and Jamie Breuer on their Sunday Joint podcast here. Fascinating.)